A cautious tilt at community -police relations

We must wait and see just where Project Impact Albouystown takes community-police relations on the watch of Mr Seelall Persaud, the recently appointed acting Commissioner of Police. Based on the recent history of relations between poor, inner city communities like Albouystown and the police, it would come as no surprise if the initiative is viewed with at least a measure of suspicion in parts of the community where people have experienced the seamier side of law enforcement. At the same time even those of us who support an initiative of this nature might be tempted to ask whether the new Top Cop is seriously seeking to restore a measure of public trust and confidence in the concept of ‘service and protection’ squandered over time mostly by woeful police excesses, or whether this is simply one of those public relations gimmicks that will fall at the hurdle of the next awkward police-citizen encounter in that particular community. That is a measure of the depths to which community relations have sunk.

And yet, any sincere initiative designed to better the Force’s relations with the Guyanese community as a whole merits public support and encouragement, and one might even venture to ask the acting Commissioner to say whether, perhaps, there might be similar initiatives planned for other communities across the country. The real challenge, of course, reposes in the chasm of mistrust that lies between inner city communities and the police and whether the Force, in its present state, is capable of closing that gap sufficiently to cause Project Impact Albouystown to work.

If it is by no means a bad idea for the acting Commissioner to start his tenure by reaching out to one of our more testy urban communities, both himself and the Minister of Home Affairs ought to be clear on both the nature and the magnitude of the assignment. Government has a way of contriving exercises for purely short-term image-building purposes, and if this is one of those then it needs to understand that failure in this instance would only further set back community-police relations.

It would be a bit more reassuring for all concerned if we were able to learn that the project has been planned with a healthy measure of community involvement, that it is structured in a manner that is mindful of its sustainability, that the intention is that it proceeds on a path of mutual trust and that it includes a set of clearly defined anticipated outputs. That would provide the project with a sense of purpose that differs from some of those ill-defined initiatives that simply expire when the assigned resources are exhausted.

Over time, the GPF and those other state institutions partnering with it in Project Impact Albouystown must demonstrate that this is not just another of those ‘partnerships’ that are, in effect, officially driven edicts intended to work in the manner that officialdom seeks, and afterwards to simply disappear.

The acting Commissioner must understand too that an absence of genuine community participation in the key decision-making aspects of the project will leave it vulnerable to disagreement and controversy, giving rise to the likelihood of its disappearance into the mist – in other words, a return to the more mundane environment of mutual suspicion and periodic bouts of bad blood between the community and police.

Nor should the acting Commissioner think for a moment that the Force can exercise any greater leverage than the community. In fact, it is the police, with their decidedly unimpressive track record in community relations who are really on trial here.

That is why it would be good to learn more about the shape and structure of the ‘Project.’ It would be useful to know, for example, whether or not the project will address the issues of education as an option to idleness and poverty as a corollary to crime. These issues are, in large measure, linked to the matter of the rise of teenage ‘bandits,’ which has now become a serious challenge for the police.

This is simply a different way of hoping aloud that there is a plan to Project Impact Albouystown and that it is being implemented with the warranted seriousness. Acting Commissioner Persaud should not neglect to seize this opportunity to begin to create a more convivial relationship with youths in Albouystown and, equally importantly, with parents; nor should he assume that these assignments will amount to a proverbial walk in the park. If he succeeds, however, that could be a game-changer for policing.

Whether or not the Force itself is equipped with the human resources and the structures to ensure the success of Project Impact Albouystown is another question which Messrs Rohee and Persaud must answer. The available evidence suggests that it does not. The GPF can no longer run the risk of trying to sustain itself without a high profile department headed by an appropriately trained senior officer and staffed by specialists to handle its range of challenges, including those that have to do with police-media relations, police-community relations, police-family relations, police-youth relations, gender issues and image management. While these disciplines will require specific training it is, ultimately, the Commissioner of Police who is the Force’s image-maker-in-chief so that apart from his own particular specializations Mr Persaud will have to pay more attention to  those various other disciplines  if he is to see the image and, by extension, the effectiveness of the Force, restored under his watch.

We know too that the Albouystown residents have asked (not for the first time) that a police station be placed in the community. It is as clear an indication as they can give that they are not averse to working with the police to tackle crime. We can think of no really compelling reason why the residents of Albouystown should not get their way in the matter of an efficient police presence in their community.

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